Only 12 years after everybody else knew it, former FIFA president Sepp Blatter admitted this week that the organisation’s decision to award Qatar the 2022 World Cup was a “mistake.”
The timing of this admission from Blatter is farcical: far too late for anything to be done about it and close enough to the tournament (which starts on Nov. 20) to undermine the efforts of those left to make the best of a bad situation.
The only person who really benefits is Blatter himself, still scrambling to rescue a reputation mired in ongoing allegations of corruption, the nadir of which saw a tiny Gulf state with no football heritage handed the biggest sporting show on Earth in 2010. Having said that, Netflix will be pleased by the 86-year-old providing a timely promotional boost to the streaming service’s new four-part documentary “FIFA Uncovered,” released on Wednesday, which outlines alarming levels of unsavoury and clandestine dealings permeating football’s most prominent administrative body for decades.
“It [Qatar] is too small of a country,” Blatter told Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger. “Football and the World Cup are too big for it.”
Yes. Yes they are. Obviously. And it reflects badly on Blatter that there was no mention of the country’s poor human rights record or treatment of the LGBTQ+ community when explaining why Qatar was a bad choice.
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FIFA may have changed its host country criteria in 2012 as concerns emerged about worker treatment during the construction of stadiums in Qatar, but what does it say about FIFA that provisions of such basic human rights were not considered before then?
Years of deflection and misdirection make Blatter’s comments this week all the more infuriating. In November 2013, he told delegates at the Asian Football Confederation: “It is not fair when the international media, and especially European media, are taking up the focus of an Arab country here in this, Asia, by attacking, attacking, criticizing this country. We are defending it.”
A month later, he said of migrant worker treatment: “We have met with the ITUC [International Trades Union Confederation] and the ILO [International Labour Organisation] and now is the time to calm down.”
In June 2014, as major sponsors questioned the purity of the bidding process, he told the BBC: “There is a sort of storm against FIFA relating to the Qatar World Cup. Sadly there’s a great deal of discrimination and racism.”
In 2016, he alleged pressure from external political forces influenced the vote. Yet only now, in Blatter’s first interview since both he and Michel Platini were acquitted of fraud in July — a verdict still being appealed by the authorities — has the figurehead of such a controversial decision actually acknowledged the absurdity of a winter World Cup in the desert.
It’s not the first World Cup with off-field issues to deal with, but the conversation around Qatar has various complexities: the progress made locally with the abolition of the kafala system and introduction of a minimum wage, respecting the culture of a Muslim country while hoping the football is exhilarating enough to give us something positive to focus on. Blatter made that more difficult this week, pushing Qatar’s Supreme Committee further on the back foot in the same month as the tournament begins.
The World Cup should be a celebration, but this incarnation increasingly feels like an endurance test for players in the middle of a domestic season and 1.2 million supporters descending on a country which has so palpably struggled to build an infrastructure to cope with such an influx.
Amid the socioeconomic, political and cultural controversy that comes with a World Cup, Qatar will be held to account in the same way every host nation is and judged on its ability to stage a tournament in a welcoming environment for everyone. The window for relitigating the initial decision closed long ago and Blatter reinserting himself into the debate hasn’t helped at all.
Sepp Blatter’s comments on Qatar World Cup come too late
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